Neil Heywood death: how news of an Old Harrovian's murder went straight to Barack Obama

Mr Obama learnt that Mr Heywood was being described as a murder victim before
British officials told William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, about the
development.

Sources in Washington last night said that for the American president to be so
quickly informed of the death of a British citizen was almost unprecedented.

“This was a very high official with extraordinary intelligence,” John Tkacik,
who worked for the state department in China for 20 years, said of Wang
Lijun, the head of Chongqing police.

“In all of my experience, I can’t recall its equal.”

America is increasingly being drawn into the claims of murder and corruption
that have rocked the Chinese establishment.

The hacking of the website Boxun.com, which has been a consistent source of
information on the murder investigation, was blamed on the Chinese security
services by the US-based dissidents who run it.

A senior Washington intelligence official, who analyses Chinese cyber
activities on a daily basis, said: “There is no question that the Boxun
denial-of-service attack was ordered by the authorities in Beijing. It has
their fingerprints all over it.”

Also based in the US is Bo Guagua, 24, whose lavish lifestyle has been
highlighted in official Chinese reports.

Despite his father’s official salary of £600 a month, he was educated at prep
school and Harrow. He went to Oxford, from which he was rusticated, and now
studies at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Claims surfaced in Taiwan yesterday that Chinese diplomats had told the young
Mr Bo to return home immediately, and that he was working on hiding the
family’s gains from alleged corruption from the Chinese and American
authorities. He is also reported to have hired private security.

Mr Heywood had told a friend he was instrumental in gaining Mr Bo the place at
Harrow, and seems to be at the centre of the scandal rocking the Communist
party.

When Mr Lijun arrived in an agitated state at the US consulate in Chengdu one
night in February, he described a web of corruption and fear presided over
by his boss, the Chongqing party chief Mr Bo.

The consulate was surrounded by local police, who wanted the Americans to hand
Mr Wang over to Mr Bo’s enforcers. Eventually he was given to Chinese state
police, leading to questions in the US over why he was not offered asylum.

Analysts believe Mr Heywood’s alleged killing is only the most public element
of a bitter power struggle which has ended Mr Bo’s hopes of joining the
nine-strong politburo which runs China.

Mr Bo rose to national prominence as mayor of Dalian before he was mayor of
Chongqing. His wife, also scion of a Communist dynasty, was equally powerful
and reports in Chinese state media have made claims of extraordinary levels
of corruption and crime.

An unnamed man in Dalian, who was managing the couple’s overseas assets, died
in suspicious circumstances, while the presumed suicide of a Chongqing
investigator is also now being dealt with as murder.

Leaked party memos claim that Mrs Gu was behind these deaths, in addition to
that of Mr Heywood.

The day before Mr Bo’s removal from office for “economic crimes”, one of his
family’s close allies was arrested. Xu Ming, a Dalian-based billionaire, has
not been seen since. There is speculation that Mr Heywood’s wife worked for
him.

The scandal is also threatening Zhou Yongkang, the politburo security head and
another ally of Mr Bo. Boxun reported he had been forced “to make tearful
self confessions” to President Hu Jintao. His fate has yet to be decided.

The whereabouts of another European linked to Mrs Gu are also unknown. Patrick
Devillers, an architect, helped her set up a company in Poole, Dorset. He
grew up in Rainans, eastern France, where his father Michel said he had not
seen him for three years. “We speak on the phone, but he doesn’t give me
much news,” Mr Devillers said. “He’s a busy man with lots to do.”

In China, residents at the architect’s last known address, an apartment
overlooking the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, claimed not to have seen him
for years.

The Angdao law firm, where Mr Devillers was based, and which is believed to
have been quietly run by Mrs Gu, would not comment on his whereabouts. Some
workers said they thought he had moved back to France in 2008.

Mr Devillers is perhaps right to be wary: Mr Heywood’s wife and two children
are coming to terms with him being the apparent victim of a cyanide
poisoning plot.

There are even claims he was held down and forced to swallow the poison.
Friends in China have found it strange that the Old Harrovian, who
cultivated the image of an Englishman abroad by wearing a linen suit and
driving a Jaguar with a 007 number plate, could be caught up in an
international scandal.

In Dalian, where Mr Heywood settled on moving to China following a degree at
Warwick University, Eddie Casey, 61, an Irish expat who ran a bar called the
Tin Whistle, said: “He was a happy guy. He was very intelligent, always came
in for the pub quiz and his team would win. He wasn’t a party guy. He’d have
a couple of beers and then he’d say, ‘I’m going home’. The foreign community
in Dalian was very, very small then and so we all knew each other.”

Nothing in Mr Heywood’s lifestyle or his business career pointed to fabulous
wealth.

He reportedly left very little in his will and his wife is said to be
struggling with the mortgage on their three-storey house in Beijing, as well
their children’s £50,000-a-year fees at the Beijing branch of Dulwich
College.

A former associate reportedly even had to pay for the family’s plane tickets
to attend Mr Heywood’s memorial service in London.

“I knew he was involved with Bo Xilai,” said a friend. “The first time I met
him he claimed he’d been instrumental in getting Bo’s son into Harrow, but
that didn’t seem very remarkable. Now, when I read the stories saying he was
a money launderer, that’s just mind boggling to me.”

A Shanghai-based businessman also said the story did not chime with the man he
knew. “You meet people who have zeal in their eyes; Neil didn’t,” he said.

“He seemed easy-going and gave no indication that he was driven or ambitious.
I got the impression that he was quite lost: a nice guy but a bit of a
drifter really.”

The last time the businessman saw Mr Heywood was a month before his death at a
regatta in Beijing. “We all sat on the grass watching the rowing. It was
very pleasant and our kids got on well. We were going to arrange for the
kids to play together again. But it never happened.”

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